Low Income Energy Assistance Programs
California Public Utilities code 739 asserts that electricity and gas services are basic necessities. Bill discounts for low-income customers, in what is now called the CARE program, began in 1989 (Senate Bill 987). Additionally, Senate Bill 845 codified by California Public Utilities code sections 2790, 382(b), and 327 established energy efficiency programs for low-income customers in 1987, recognizing that energy efficiency is a way of reducing hardship for low-income customers. The CPUC oversees the CARE and low-income energy efficiency programs (ESAP) as implemented by the investor owned utilities. ORA advocates to expand and improve future program design to ensure that energy is affordable for at-risk customers.
The CARE discount is California’s primary rate affordability tool. Relative to the estimated number of eligible households, the utilities have enrolled approximately 93% of this number onto the CARE program. Yet, too many customers enrolled in the program are still disconnected for nonpayment of bills. For these customers, CARE even in combination with other programs, still does not make energy affordable enough. ORA supports utility Best Practices setting goals and strategies to keep disconnections at a minimum.
The ESA program is an energy efficiency program targeted to low-income households. Benefits at the household level are holding steady at best, at approximately $50 saved over the year in an electric and gas bill. It is becoming more and more costly to maintain this static level of benefits.
In November 2009, ORA issued a report on the Status of Energy Utility Service Disconnections in California, finding that disconnections were rising dramatically, especially of low-income customers. In 2010, the CPUC put in place temporary protections for energy service disconnections for the investor owned utilities as a response to the economic downturn in California. Subsequently, the CPUC issued a decisions for all utilities that require utility best practice strategies to keep energy service disconnections low in California.
Despite that one-third of California households are enrolled in CARE, varying degrees of poverty mean affordability is still an issue. The affordability gap between actual energy costs and affordable energy costs is estimated to be $592 per household in 2010.
Joint Consumer Group Letter to Commissioner Sandoval on Categorical Eligibilty (March 2013)
Status of Energy Utility Service Disconnections in CA Report (Mar 2011)
Status of Energy Utility Service Disconnections in CA Report (Nov 2009)
LIHEAP and the Weather Assistance Program (WAP) are the federally funded equivalents of CARE and ESA and are available to help low-income California utility customers.
The Low Income Oversight Board website catalogues the reports and filings related to California's low income energy services.
A history of ESA, CARE, and LIHEAP.
See Fisher, Sheehan, & Colton's excellent research on home energy affordability.
The California Budget Project's A Generation of Widening Inequality.